“You have two choices be a part of the solution or be a part of the problem, either way you have the choice”
The caption on their website states, “Women in under-resourced communities are the answer, not the problem. Let’s stop punishing them.” Wayfinder Foundation, a non-profit organization, goal is to provide support to undiscovered leaders in under-resourced communities. They recently launched a fellowship to award grant money to women who have a commitment to community activism in the cities where they live. The inaugural group of 14 women from Indianapolis and Los Angeles represents the next community leaders. This blog will highlight one of those women. Ashley Virden is an Indianapolis Community Activism Grant recipient. She is a single mother of three who believes there is power in storytelling when it comes to advocacy.
David McGuire: Tell me a little about yourself.
Ashley Virden: I am single mother of three children ages nine, seven, and four and a proud long-time resident of the Dubarry Park neighborhood located on the far eastside of Indianapolis, IN. I truly care for others like they are part of me and I’m tired of my community being underserved and kept down by policies, practices, and systems that were supposedly created to help us. It took someone else believing in me and pointing out all my great qualities and loving me despite my mess for me to realize that I am an asset and I deserved more out of life. It proved to me that we need a strong village of people who know their worth in order to make the world a better place. No one can do it alone, we must work together if we ever want to see real social change.
DM: Why are you so passionate about community involvement?
AV: My community has played a major part in helping me grow into the woman I have become, and has blessed me in so many ways. I am passionate about community involvement because it allows me to pour back into the community all that it has given me while creating the kind of world that I want my children and future generations to see. Someone once told me, “The fruit is not for the tree.” I believe that everything that I have gained throughout my life was placed in me to help encourage and empower others. My neighborhood is not always shown in a positive light, but the more I get involved, the more I see I am surrounded by so many great people and places that often get overlooked. I hope that by interacting with my community and sharing my story that we can come together as a unit and learn how we can use our many assets to lift up our community, as a whole, and erase the negative narrative others have created for us. I love my community and we have so much great potential and I want others to see that as well.
DM: Why did you apply for the fellowship?
AV: I applied for the fellowship to build valuable relationships with other community activists, increase my capacity as a community leader, and to enable me to better serve and address the needs of my well deserving community.
DM: What are you hoping to accomplish from the fellowship?
AV: I am hoping this fellowship can help me become a stronger leader in my community by highlighting my strengths, exposing my weaknesses, and allowing me the opportunity to connect with community leaders and activists all over the country while creating a platform to share my community’s story on a larger scale.
DM: How do you feel this accomplishment will help you achieve your goals?
AV: Acknowledging my strengths, addressing my weaknesses, and building relationships will enable me to most effectively advocate for my well deserving community. I am committed to fostering collaboration that empowers neighbors and restores hope for everyone in my community. I plan on doing this by forming an impactful community organization, creating a calendar of events to encourage community engagement, and create a website to highlight all the great things that is happening in my community. Ultimately, I want to let my community and the rest of the world know that the far eastside is not a problem that needs to be fixed, but a community filled with great people and places yet to be discovered and highlighted.
DM: What impact will your project have on your community?
AV: There is a fundamental coaching belief that “people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” Meaning we don’t need to be fixed and we have everything we need inside of us to create change in our lives. I am hoping that my work will show my community that they are not a problem but an asset and help shift their mindsets away from focusing on their problems to how can they enhance what they already have to create better outcomes and see positive change.
DM: What does it mean to be a community activist?
AV: Being a community activist is something that you can’t turn on and off. It is working to take the power from the policymakers and putting it in the community's hand. It’s not allowing others to continue to marginalize your community. It’s about taking collective action to create sustainable, equitable and inclusive social change for the greater good of society and improving the quality of life for all.
Be on the lookout for interviews with the other winners from this prestigious fellowship.